This HR expert offers some tips for HR professionals to help coach their managers and leaders to adopt a people-first mindset and develop critical HR skills.
For HR 2020 will be looked back on as a significant turning point for the profession, with that ‘seat at the table’ that we’ve well and truly earned getting a serious workout.
Many organisations turned to their HR teams for leadership and direction to navigate the people-related issues associated with the global pandemic. And so, with this in mind, I’d like to explore why I think every manager should possess certain HR skills in order to continue responding to the pandemic, and all that comes along with it, effectively.
Below, I’ll provide some practical tips for managers who want to improve their own HR skills and capabilities, as well as highlight what I believe to be the essential skills for a modern-day people management role.
A motivating force
The future prosperity of all our organisations will heavily depend on having managers at all levels who can motivate, inspire and lead people to solve increasingly complex challenges. HR have been at the forefront of this work for decades now, regularly devising solutions within their organisations to effectively respond to uncertainty, ambiguity and challenge.
The artwork above so elegantly captures the collective mood of people during the early days of COVID-19 (and perhaps those in NSW who are currently back in lockdown). This mood was one that many people around the world were synchronously experiencing, and it fell on HR’s shoulders to help leaders to try and lessen the impact, by encouraging them to take a people-first approach in response to the pandemic. All the while feeling ‘Ughhhhh’ themselves.
Almost overnight, many organisations faced the prospect of not being able to have people physically working due to lockdowns and restrictions, and there was a need for businesses to deploy quick and innovative strategies in order to enable businesses to continue to deliver products and services.
In this new environment, a lot of organisations survived, but many thrived. Those that thrived were companies that went beyond the rhetoric of people being their ‘most important asset’. They took steps to provide support, infrastructure and care to their employees, not just thinking of them as ‘important assets’, but key partners and stakeholders.
Effective leaders and HR professionals know that it takes collaboration at all levels of business, and diversity of thought, to emerge from a crisis stronger than before.
HR rode the pandemic’s momentum by creating more projects and initiatives that value people at a deeper level, by providing expertise and encouragement around flexible work and mental health awareness, and prioritising the general health and safety of employees.
Three HR competencies for leaders to emulate
With these lessons in mind, what HR skills should we be instilling in our leaders?
In the HR profession, we are fortunate to have some insightful academics and researchers who are focused on examining the profession, skills and attributes that make for the practice of good HR.
One of these experts is David Ulrich, who has undertaken extensive research into the competencies of HR practitioners, shown in the graphic below.
Of Ulrich’s list of HR competencies, there are three core drivers that stand out to me:
1. Strategic positioner. This is about understanding the organisational context and operating in conjunction with that context to achieve successful HR outcomes. This competency requires the HR professional to be able to understand the key drivers of the operating environment they are working in and how they can apply their HR skills and expertise to generate further value.
2. Paradox navigator. This is key to the work of any successful HR professional, in that they must be able to deal with difficult issues by holding the tension to a range of viewpoints that anything could be true. In navigating paradox, it is the role of HR to take a curious and inquiring mind to the issue in order to see a wider range of possibilities that exist, as opposed to addressing the issue in a black and white manner.
HR professionals who navigate paradox well can comfortably take truth to power, surfacing difficult issues and encouraging debate and conversation to solve problems in a way that considers various options and/or potential resolutions to issues.
3. Credible activist. HR should build presence within the organisation by delivering results, developing relationships based on trust and respect, and communicating clearly and precisely on key issues.
However, they must extend beyond just being credible by taking action within their organisations on issues of significance and, where appropriate, challenging the status quo. This means that the HR professional will, at times, find themselves instigating change in areas that may be controversial or politically sensitive to an organisation (i.e. such as cultural reform issues).
These three core drivers are not unique to HR or HR managers, but apply equally to all managers who must step beyond their immediate area of functional responsibility and take a whole-of-organisation approach to the way they lead people.
How can managers build their critical HR skills?
A great way to help your leaders build their HR skills and knowledge is to consider some of the following practical steps:
- Pair managers up with someone from the HR team, for some coaching/shadowing opportunities. There may be an opportunity for you to establish a mutually beneficial mentoring arrangement, in which the HR team member can upskill the manager in some areas of HR and the manager could, for example, bolster HR’s knowledge of the business, such as how the finance or marketing function operates.
- Encourage them to sign up to receive daily HR newsletters so they can get the latest management resources and workplace news, and keep their finger on the pulse of all things HR. (Editor’s note: you can sign up to HRM’s daily newsletter here. You just need to create a quick account).
- Listen to podcasts that are based on key topics or current focus areas for HR. Some great HR podcasts to start with are ‘Digital HR Leaders with David Green’ and ‘Work Life’, hosted by Adam Grant. (See HRM’s list of great workplace-related podcasts here).
- Seek out the national HR body or an institution which will have a wide range of resources and training opportunities available – often some can be accessed for free. For example, the Australian Human Resources Institute has a wide-range of HR resources available: www.ahri.com.au (FYI, some resources are exclusive to AHRI members).
- Next time you see an acting opportunity in HR come up in your immediate organisation, why not encourage them to apply to get the hands-on experience of what it’s like to work in HR?
Sarah Queenan FCPHR founder and director at Humanify HR.
Want to upskill people in your business with critical HR skills? AHRI’s short course ‘HR for non-HR people‘ is a great way to equip them with the basics.